THE "gross" neglect of staff at a mental health hospital played a part in a County Durham father-of-two taking his own life, a coroner has declared.

Wednesday's inquest into the death of Leo Crossling heard how he was allowed to leave West Park Hospital, in Darlington, on February 5, despite his psychiatrist raising concerns the day before.

The Northern Echo: West Park Hospital in Darlington, part of the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust

Staff at West Park Hospital, in Darlington, allowed Mr Crossling to leave the ward without carrying out a risk assessment

Mr Crossling, who suffered from depression and had a history of mental health disorders, was found at a viaduct hours later, having hanged himself.

The 48-year-old had been an informal patient, having voluntarily admitted himself to the hospital’s Maple Ward for treatment, in December 2015.

He described the Tees, Esk & Wear Valley NHS Foundation Trust hospital as a “safe haven” to his family; telling them he felt unable to refrain from self-harming at home in Barnard Castle, County Durham.

Through tears, his wife, Joanne Crossling, told coroner Andrew Tweddle how her husband said he was “the sickest person in hospital” but believed he would get better.

“He did not want to die; I know that for a fact,” she said. “He lived for his family and we were his protective factor.

“What he needed was some respite from the continued suicidal thoughts that just savaged him constantly and we knew as a family how hard it he was trying and how brave and courageous he was to keep going on with that time but he used to say things like ‘I’m hanging on by my finger tips’.”

Mrs Crossling said her husband was desperate in the months leading up to his death and had been to a bridge once before with plan to end his life, but found the strength to go back to the hospital.

She said she could not understand why the GlaxoSmithKline worker had been allowed to leave unaccompanied again – an incident it emerged none of the staff knew about.

Mr Crossling’s consultant psychiatrist, Ingrid Hall Whitton, confirmed Mr Crossling was considered a “high risk” patient which led her to ask for “tighter” measures in the form of a risk assessment to be carried out before any leave was granted.

Mr Crossling had left once before without notifying staff which she said she believed was down to an “emerging culture” across the Trust as staff became more “relaxed” with informal patients’ leave.

Dr Whitton said she was “deeply sorry” that more contact with Mr Crossling’s family was not made which was repeated by the Trust’s director of nursing and governance, Elizabeth Moody.

Ms Moody said an investigation had been carried out which found that nursing staff failed to carry out a risk assessment for Mr Crossling before he left the ward. They are now facing disciplinary action.

She also confirmed an external independent review of all serious incidents relating to patients who have died while on leave has also been commissioned and is expected to be finalised early next year.

She said “lessons had been learned” and a “visual control board” had been introduced into the ward to help staff.

Mr Tweddle recorded a conclusion of suicide contributed to by neglect and said he was in no doubt it was “gross” neglect.

“There was a significant failure on behalf of the Trust not to carry out an appropriate assessment,” he said. “Leo would not have died when he did if things had been done properly.”

Giving a statement on behalf of the family, solicitor Angela Kirtley, said: “The family are extremely pleased with the coroner’s verdict particularly in relation to the fact that he was prepared to say that it was suicide but there was a contribution by neglect.”